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Who will guard the guards?

Rule of law is a universal principle that makes government decisions subservient to established laws rather than governments using power to influence or bend the laws to their will. Ours being a pretend democracy, elected governments have repeatedly been demonstrating laws are not a constraint on their conduct; they can be changed when they stand in the way of ruling elites. The desire of even a disgraced ruling party leader can become the wish of the nation’s highest legislative forum, demeaning its own authority, like it has happened in the case of former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, disqualified on a corruption charge by the Supreme Court to remain a member of the National Assembly and consequently to head his party.

He has managed to change the law, Peoples Representation Act, that barred a person illegible to be a member of Parliament from holding office of a political party, and also gotten his party to accordingly amend its constitution, removing the restriction on him from getting re-elected – unopposed, of course – as its president. From now on, a person can be unfit – for being dishonest in like Mian Sahib – to be a member of Parliament, but fit to lead a major political party, making its policy decisions – given the undemocratic culture prevailing in almost all parties – as well as who may or may not represent it in the next general elections. This would be unthinkable in a functioning democracy. Only last year, British prime minister David resigned just because he had failed to win public support in a referendum for his policy to stay within the European Union, saying it would be wrong for him “to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.” He did not believe, he said, he was the right person to lead Brexit negotiations with the EU. Here even a corruption conviction cannot stop a person from playing leadership role.

The ousted prime minister not only shrugs off his conviction, but hurls insults at the apex court for holding him to account for a financial misdemeanor and whatever else took away his leadership position. Delivering his victory speech after reclaiming his party’s presidentship, he termed RPA provision that bit him as “a black law” going on to repeat this usual absurd argument that public mandate should not be insulted. He wants us to believe electoral success hands a leader mandate not only to govern in the public interest but also to protect and promote personal interests. He of course insists he has been disqualified on flimsy grounds, ie, non-disclosure of an asset. There are several examples wherein legislators have faced same consequences for the same reason. To quote just two, last year the apex court declared a PML-N legislator from Gujranwala NA-101 unqualified to remain a member of the National Assembly for concealing his assets. The year before an election tribunal deprived a PTI MNA Rai Hassan Nawaz from Cheecha Watni NA-162 of his assembly seat over non-disclosure of an asset.

But Mian Sahib thinks he is not only above law he is law unto himself; after all, he has had the power to change laws to suit his purposes. Back in 1992, his government brought in an Economic Reforms Protection Act, allowing transfer of foreign currency accounts to and from Pakistan without the State Bank’s permission. The law remained in force till ’99. It seems no coincident that the Sharifs’ controversial London flats were bought soon after that law was passed -as confirmed by old TV and press interviews members of the family and close associates had been giving long before the Panamagate hit the headlines- to facilitate transfer of money in complete secrecy. The family though claims to have purchased those properties in 2006, sans satisfactory evidence; and have also failed to explain as to where the money came from and how it reached London to make that purchase.

In the works now is a new accountability law that is to replace NAB with a National Accountability Commission. Some of the proposed reforms, such as abolishing the plea bargain and voluntary returns option as well as bringing judges and generals under the purview of anti-corruption bodies, can only be welcomed though at this point in time the latter comes out of spite rather than a genuine effort towards across the board accountability. But also being snuck into new law are some mischievous proposals. One aims to remove the onus on an accused to prove his/her resources justify assets under investigation. And to save Finance Minister Ishaq Dar from trouble for issuing questionable SROs another proposal seeks to shift the subject from the purview of NAB Ordinance to Financial Recovery Ordinance so things can be easily managed.

Sad as it is, our power elites are bent upon legalizing loot and plunder of public wealth. Recently in Sindh, where several ruling party members face mega corruption charges, the PPP government had the provincial assembly pass a bill, annulling the applicability of National Accountability Ordinance to the province. That job has been assigned to a new entity under direct government control by hiding behind the Eighth Amendment’s devolution of power to the provinces. The move came at a time NAB was investigating over 200 corruption suspects, including about 20 politicians and a number of bureaucrats. Most of them belong to the PPP. It is more than obvious what the Sindh government has wanted to achieve in the name of provincial autonomy. Between them, the Nawaz League and PPP leaderships seem to take it as some sort of a divine right to rob and steal from this country’s teeming poor.

Fazal, Sadia. Who will guard the guards?. Business Recorder, October 5, 2017.

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